St. Thomas More’s Prison Cell in the Tower of London

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For a pilgrimage earlier this year, I made arrangements to visit the cell in the Tower of London where St. Thomas More was imprisoned as he underwent trial for refusal to take the Oath of Supremacy imposed by King IMG_0560Henry VIII.

St. Thomas is my patron saint in Confirmation, and today (June 22) is his optional memorial.

Although the Tower of London was used to detain the King’s prisoners from time to time, it is not a prison per se. Rather, it was (and is) a secure location belonging to the Monarch, which, in addition to quarters for guards and officers, also provides cells for certain “special” prisoners. Usually, such prisoners would be brought in upon a boat from the Thames through the “Prisoner’s Gate”, and then marched from there to their cell within the Tower complex.

St. Thomas, due to his status and rank, qualified to be imprisoned there, in relative “comfort” compared to the prison of the time for commoners of the realm.

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The ancient (original) door to St. Thomas’ cell

As he first arrived at the Tower in April 1534, he had some privileges which his guards and examiners slowly stripped away. For example, he was permitted a writing table and chair, sufficient light and supplies for writing, books (in particular his breviary), as well as reasonably warm clothing.

Within the cell itself, not atop a “tower” IMG_0548but actually quite close to ground level, which had open windows overlooking a moat ringing the Tower, there was a  cavernous arched roof, and lack of heat and exposure to the elements would have been a tremendous discomfort, particularly in the damp London winter.

The rest of the time, if it were more temperate, the open cistern the served as the cell’s “bathroom” would emit noxious fumes and gases back into the cell from the collecting sewage below.

Over time, as St. IMG_0551Thomas remained obstinate and his handlers grew impatient and frustrated, “privileges” were removed; no more books for reading, no more paper and ink for writing, the spartan furnishings were taken away, food become less frequent and plentiful, and finally, the very clothes warming his body were stripped from him.

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The “privy”

Meanwhile, St. Thomas would sometimes catch a glimpse of his daughter Margaret from outside the window. No doubt, he was aware that he was not the only one of his family sacrificing to defend what was true. Positions for sons and sons-in-law evaporated as St. Thomas had lost the king’s favor, his “friends”, and became a political pariah. No more prestige for anyone connected to the More family, but rather the opposite — infamy. The

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Steps to the cell door, from within

Crown would take possession of his land holdings and turn his wife Alice out of their home. All of St. Thomas’ income was lost as well.

Despite his rhetorical prowess, St. Thomas is most impressive (to me) because he withheld from making any public statements about the situation of the King’s marriage. He avoided the controversy, and deftly navigated — deflected — from taking a position. IMG_0535Ultimately, even his silence caught up with him, until his silence became a source of condemnation.

 

St. Thomas is perhaps too frequently cited as the outspoken herald for religious liberty, when the opposite was really true. He was inchoate prudence and restraint when it came to stating his convictions. How often do we (somewhat impetuously) “jump the gun” in “taking a stand”? Here, in our particularly troubled times where freedom of religion is assailed, St. Thomas serves as a fitting guide and witness. He managed to do more for much longer because he let himself be guided in prayer to the Lord regarding when and how to act and speak.

It was only once the jury (after just fifteenIMG_0564 minutes) found him guilty upon hearsay that he put to rest the question of his “guilt”. Only then did he once for all make known that the king could not become head of any “church of England” and that the king’s marriage to Queen Catherine was true and binding upon him.

Shortly thereafter he was taken from his cell to Tower Hill (nearby) and beheaded. He said to the crowd that he “died the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Also, retaining his (sometimes ribald) sense of humor to the end, and having become rather hirsute from his time locked up in the Tower, St. Thomas swept his profuse beard away from the path of the ax — saying, “This [my beard] has not offended the king!” — lest it fall the way of his head.

Surprisingly, throughout his imprisonment, and despite his high station, St. Thomas’ enjoyed a popularity among the people. He was respected — perhaps he developed a reputation for fairness over a long and distinguished legal career, or shrewdness, or managed to avoid giving offense unnecessarily, but he was beloved. His bodily remains came to be venerated very shortly after his execution, though he was not canonized until 1935 by Pope Pius XI.

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St. Thomas’ Tomb in the Tower Chapel Crypt

In today’s Office of Readings, we find part of a letter written to St. Thomas’ daughter, Margaret, while he was imprisoned in the Tower (from the English Works of Sir Thomas More, London, 1557, p. 1454):

Although I know well, Margaret, that because of my past wickedness I deserve to be abandoned by God, I cannot but trust in his merciful goodness. His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience. God’s grace has given the king a gracious frame of mind toward me, so that as yet he had taken from me nothing but my liberty. In doing this His Majesty has done me such great good with respect to spiritual profit that I trust that among all the great benefits he has heaped so abundantly upon me I count my imprisonment the very greatest. I cannot, therefore, mistrust the grace of God. Either he shall keep the king in that gracious frame of mind to continue to do me no harm, or else, if it be his pleasure that for my other sins I suffer in this case as I shall not deserve, then his grace shall give me the strength to bear it patiently, and perhaps even gladly.

By the merits of his bitter passion joined to mine and far surpassing in merit for me all that I can suffer myself, his bounteous goodness shall release me from the pains  of purgatory and shall increase my reward in heaven besides.

I will not mistrust him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.

And if he permits me to play Saint Peter further and to fall to the ground and to swear and forswear, may God our Lord in his tender mercy keep me from this, and let me lose if it so happen, and never win thereby! Still, if this should happen, afterward I trust that in his goodness he will look on me with pity as he did upon Saint Peter, and make me stand up again and confess the truth of my conscience afresh and endure here the shame and harm of my own fault.

And finally, Margaret, I know this well: that without my fault he will not let me be lost. I shall, therefore, with good hope commit myself wholly to him. And if he permits me to perish for my faults, then I shall serve as praise for his justice. But in good faith, Meg, I trust that his tender pity shall keep my poor soul safe and make me commend his mercy.

And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.

 

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Painting of St. John Fisher arriving at the “Prisoner’s Gate” at the Tower


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Monument on Tower Hill

 

Today’s Collect:

Father, you confirm the true faith
with the crown of martyrdom.
May the prayers of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More
give us the courage to proclaim our faith
by the witness of our lives.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

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Review: Thomas More’s Prayer Book

Hans_Holbein,_the_Younger_-_Sir_Thomas_More_-_Google_Art_ProjectToday, June 22, is the feast day for St. Thomas More, “the King’s good servant, but God’s first,” who is my patron saint in confirmation, the patron saint of lawyers and statesmen, and the patron in baptism for our first son. In other words, St. Thomas More is important in our house, as an exemplar for how to persevere in the cause for religious liberty, and for steadfast Catholic faithfulness in a culture that is awash in relativism. And, he’s English.

Recently I was able to lay hands on a copy of the out of print book published by Yale University Press entitled Thomas More’s Prayer Book: A Facsimile Reproduction of the Annotated Pages (1969). This book is a treasure. Not only does it contain a facsimile of every (surviving) page from More’s breviary which he used to pray the office while imprisoned in the Tower of London prior to his martyrdom, but it is also annotated by a rather expanded scholarly introduction, and contains for its final section a transcription and translation of More’s notations in the margins of his prayer book.

FullSizeRender 14The Introduction explains that More’s prayer book is actually two books bound together — a liturgical psalter and book of hours — dating from sometime between 1530 and 1540. The text is in Latin, and the printing includes a series of fine woodcuts of various scenes that illuminate the pages, and which are well reproduced (and beautiful).

Short of making the necessary arrangements to view the original breviary (which I believe is still in the possession of Yale University), the facsimile pages provide a very tangible connection with the saint. His notes are shown throughout the book, and he composed a prayer in paired lines above and below the pages in the book of hours, sometimes referred to as More’s “Godly Meditation“:

Give me thy grace, good Lord,
To set the world at nought;

To set my mind fast upon thee,
And not to hang upon the blast of men’s mouths;

To be content to be solitary;
Not to long for worldly company;

Little and little utterly to cast off the world,
And rid my mind of all the business thereof;

FullSizeRender 13Not to long to hear of any worldly things,
But that the hearing of worldly phantasies may be to me displeasant;

Gladly to be thinking of God,
Piteously to call for his help;

To lean unto the comfort of God,
Busily to labor to love him;

To know mine own vility [vileness] and wretchedness,
To humble and meeken myself under the mighty hand of God;

To bewail my sins passed;
For the purging of them patiently to suffer adversity;

Gladly to bear my purgatory here;
To be joyful in tribulations;

To walk the narrow way that leadeth to life,
To bear the cross with Christ;

To have the last thing in remembrance,
To have ever afore mine eye my death that is ever at hand;

To make death no stranger to me,
To foresee and consider the everlasting fire of hell;

To pray for pardon before the judge come,
To have continually in mind the passion that Christ suffered  for me;

For his benefits uncessantly to give him thanks,
To buy the time again that I before have lost;

To abstain from vain confabulations,
To eschew light foolish mirth and gladness;

Recreations not necessary — to cut off;
Of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all, to set the loss at right nought for the winning of Christ;

To think my most enemies by best friends;
For the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred.

These minds [thoughts] are more to be desired of every man than all the treasure
of all the princes and kings, christian and heathen, were it gathered and laid together all upon one heap.

More composed his Godly Meditation in English, but most of More’s writings in the margins of the psalter of his prayer book are in Latin, and brief, but valuable too.

For example, alongside Psalm 70:6 (“Thou hast upheld me from birth, thou hast guarded me ever since I left my mother’s womb; ever in thee was my trust”), More writes, “in tribulation with disgrace” and at verse 9 (“Do not cast me off now, in my old age; slowly my strength ebbs, do not thou forsake me.”) he writes, “senectus segnis est / old age is sluggish”. We get, in addition to More’s piety, a glimpse of his sense of humor as well.

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Throughout the psalter we are invited to spy the mind and soul of More, and his favorite references to certain psalms for specific prayers or prayer intentions. At Psalm 41, which begins “O God, my whole soul longs for thee, as a deer for running water…”, More writes, “Happy the man who can say this from his soul.” He also notes psalms useful pro rege, or “for the king,” who in More’s case, was the same king who had him imprisoned there in the Tower.

There are entries on facing tribulation and false accusation, specific prayers against the torment of demons, dealing with scruples in confession, having faith, hope and trust, and an array of others. I find these notations so valuable, that I’ve undertaken to systematically begin inserting them into my own breviary as I pray it each day, so that I am not far from my patron as he prayed the same psalms that we pray today.

When we consider martyrs, we are frequently presented an image of a person with unquenchable faith, by which the faithful (but unsaintly) people of God are somewhat challenged, because we do not recognize such capacity for martyrdom in ourselves. We are fearful and suspicious that our faith will not carry us through any such final test.

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Anecdotally, we know that St. Thomas More was willing to die for Christ, but afraid that his human weakness, suffering under pain, would break him (“…that I wot well my lewdness hath been such that I know myself well worthy that God should let me slip, yet can I not but trust in His merciful goodness that… if I shall suffer, His grace shall give me the strength to take it patiently…”). We too, can benefit from seeing the struggle that accompanies such a path to Heaven.

Without a doubt, St. Thomas More’s prayer book belonged to a saint, but an entirely fallible human one, who struggled under much the same types of oppressions, who feared for his well-being and his family, but surrendered these fears to God through earnest prayer. I am comforted to think that as he suffered, he continued his prayers for the king and the system that unjustly accused and martyred him, as he no doubt continues to do today as the fight continues here on earth. We would do well to follow his example in much the same way.

Cardinal Morton, St. Thomas More, Beer and Ecclesiastical Heraldry

Although beer has always been a part of Catholic life in Europe since the Middle Ages, it is not associated directly with Jesus in nearly the same way as wine. This is because (1) Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana involved wine; (2) Jesus changed wine into his Most Precious Blood at the Last Supper; and as a result (3) only bread and wine are the necessary types of matter used at mass.

Because of this, ecclesiastical heraldry occasionally contains symbols relating to wine or grapes, most commonly with reference to a chalice or the Eucharist.

As noted above, while the Gospels clearly show that Jesus and his disciples consumed wine, there are no explicit references to beer anywhere in the New Testament. Beer is mentioned in various translations of the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 28:7, 56:12), but in our New American Bible, it appears as “strong drink”. Since beer was commonly consumed during biblical times, it is not unlikely that the disciples, or even Jesus Himself, quaffed the beverage on occasion.

With this in mind, consider the following somewhat unusual coat of arms belonging to John Cardinal Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury (1420-1500):

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In 1486, Morton was made Archbishop of Canterbury by King Henry VII. The King appointed Morton the Lord Chancellor of England in 1487. In 1493, he was named Cardinal-priest of the Church of St. Anastasia by Pope Alexander VI (one of the “Borgia popes”, Alexander was reputed as one of the very worst popes in the history of Catholicism).

Morton was also a mentor to the young Sir Thomas More, who worked for Morton as a page and mentioned him in his later work, Utopia. Morton may have had a hand in the authorship of More’s history on Richard III, but that remains a subject of some debate.

A German rebus, c. 1620

A German rebus, c. 1620

The barrel/cask of beer at the bottom of Morton’s arms is referred to as a rebus (i.e., “an allusional device that uses pictures to represent words or parts of words. It was a favourite form of heraldic expression used in the Middle Ages to denote surnames.”). While we in the modern age associate heraldry with a more serious form of expression, in fact the rebus illustrates the sense of humor and play on words present in family crests and other heraldic imagery.

In the case of Morton’s own coat of arms, another word for “cask” or “barrel” is “tun“, which is a term still recognized by brewers today. A “tun” emblazoned with an “M – o – r” comes out as sort of a pun on the Cardinal’s surname.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 4.07.27 PMThe rebus for Morton is repeated at Canterbury Cathedral, where he was buried before the altar of the Our Lady Undercroft. The tomb was badly damaged in the 17th Century, and Morton’s remains were removed and transferred to a more safe location, but there is still an eagle atop a barrel with “M – o – r” in the chapel.

It would be great if we could prove that Morton used the beer barrel reference to signify his own fondness for beer, but alas, while he may have been inspired to employ such a rebus in his heraldic arms upon drawing drafts of ale one evening, he may have simply liked the pun enough to use it.

While the “Mor-tun” pun is the most likely explanation, there is another possibility (or at least, an added meaning behind the rebus): according to The British Gazetteer, Political, Commercial, Ecclesiastical, and Historical, 142 miles from London, in Dorset, was a town called Beer-Heath, the “most distinguished” native of which was Archbishop John Morton. It could be that the Archbishop saw in the rebus a further reference to the place he was born.

In any case, if you know of more heraldic “beer references”, let me know and I will share them here.

Beer: St. Arnold of Metz

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August 2 is “International Beer Day“, and in honor of such an auspicious occasion, I provide an Internationally flavored beer entry about a good saint for brewers to know, and one of my recipes developed in honor of him.

It might be sacrilegious — although I think not — but I select a patron for each brew day from the Lives of the Saints. For example, I brew a beer that I normally call “Religious Liberty Ale”, but because I was able to brew on June 22 — the feast day for St. Thomas More — and because I wanted to “amp up” the normal brew, I brewed ten gallons of “Super Religious Liberty” that day.

One of the patron saints of brewers and beer is St. Arnold of Metz, whose feast day was July 18. The “Legend of the Beer Mug” [note: I’m not representing that Wikipedia is a reliable or academic source, but we are dealing with a LEGEND here] is attributed to his intercession:

“It was July 642 and very hot when the parishioners of Metz went to Remiremont to recover the remains of their former bishop. They had little to drink and the terrain was inhospitable. At the point when the exhausted procession was about to leave Champigneulles, one of the parishioners, Duc Notto, prayed “By his powerful intercession the Blessed Arnold will bring us what we lack.” Immediately the small remnant of beer at the bottom of a pot multiplied in such amounts that the pilgrims thirst was quenched and they had enough to enjoy the next evening when they arrived in Metz.”

I’ve definitely felt, from time to time, that I have been the recipient of small miracles of kegs not going empty when a hungry and thirsty crowd is gathered around, expecting plenty of food and beer. I’ve had kegs pour pitcher after pitcher, long after I thought they should go empty, even when they feel totally empty. I make a note of the saints for those kegs, and I pray to them when I brew.

This beer is actually half of a single 10-gallon batch of beer. This half (St. Arnold of Metz) was brewed at regular ale temperature and the other half (St. Arnold of Soissons, August 14) was brewed at lager temperature, using the same “hybrid” California Lager yeast.

The Recipe is here.

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Tasting notes: This Imperial IPA offers up notes of melon, orange blossom and apples on the nose. The mid-7% alcohol content provides a smooth warmth on the palate, without an overwrought or flabby mouthfeel, which is adequately balanced with the bitterness of the hops, reaching nearly 70 IBUs (although realistically, I think this beer tastes closer to 55-60 IBUs). Flavor notes include grapefruit rounded out by a subtle malt profile.

St. Arnold of Metz, pray for us.

I will post a followup with tasting notes for St. Arnold of Soissons in a few weeks!